There seems to be something shared among some UK figurative painters. An affinity for times gone by. The ambience of the taverns and dance halls populated by small time grifters and crooks. Peering into dark bedrooms inhabited by estranged lovers. Scottish painter Jack Vettriano embraced this somewhat ‘noir-ish’ retro world years ago when he abandoned bright sunlit seashore and resort ballroom scenes.
UK painter Raymond Leech often dwells in similar milieus, though doing so with an entirely different level of draftsmanship and more visibly soft and ‘painterly’ brushwork.Leech’s bio’s say his affection is for the Cornish Newlyn School of art, like paintings by Stanhope Forbes. And that may be the case with Leech’s charming harborside seascapes. But the darker, brooding paintings shown here probe something quite different, but before drawing too many comparisons between Scottish painter Vettriano and Norfolk bred Leech, keep in mind that it’s unwise to fixate on details like the men’s white shirts and suspenders or even the vaguely 1930’s – 1950’s environments. Shared visual cues in both painters’ work are apparent, but dwelling on them is akin to comparing two artists including red barns in their landscapes or sailing ships in their maritime paintings.
Leech was born 70 years ago in Great Yarmouth, the eastern most point of England jutting out into the beginnings of the North Sea. As a teen he studied both fine art and graphic design at Great Yarmouth College of Art, and like so many artists, started his career as a designer. But growing skill and increasing success with his paintings eventually directed him to pursue a fine arts career. Not restricted to easel work, Leech works interchangeably in oils, watercolor and pastels.
So, what do UK painters like Jack Vettriano and Raymond Leech really share? Both depict figures sharing the same spaces though they’re often remote and disconnected. Desire is evident, but unfulfilled, love an illusion in scenes that suggest it’s really just for sale. There’s a faux nostalgia (though not sentiment) for undefined mid-twentieth century cinema-style settings and a generous bit of peekaboo voyeurism. But what they may share the most is the fine arts world’s reaction: Disdain or outright dismissal from critics, for them and for most narrative artists, save for the cynical few tricky enough to cloak their figurative work in some sense of irony.
See the next post for additional pieces by UK artist Raymond Leech.